Although the town of Roskilde is most famous for its music festival, it’s a beautiful city in its own right, with historic buildings, a university, and numerous museums. (The town itself dates back to King Hrothgar of Beowulf fame). And for a town of fewer than 50,000 people, this includes the Roskilde Museum, the Cathedral Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Lejre Musuem (cradle of Danish civilization), the Land of Legends (open air museum) and the Viking Ship Museum.
Because they’re expensive (about 20 dollars per museum) and also quite comprehensive, I only had the time and funds to see one museum. Land of Legends sounded awesome, but the Viking ship museum (in Danish: Vikingeskibsmuseet) won out with the promise of sailing a viking ship out into the fjords!
As it turned out, I missed the Viking ship departure time by less than 30 minutes. But it didn’t even matter–the Viking Ship museum was one of the best museums I’ve ever been.
Partly it’s the unique history. Around the year 1070, five Viking ships were deliberately sunk at Skuldelev in Roskilde Fjord in order to block the most important fairway and to protect Roskilde from enemy attack from the sea
There they sat, for almost a thousand years while the Vikings faded into history, the Mongols came and went, Marco Polo found pasta and added tomatoes to it, new parts of the world were connected, the Burmese founded and lost the largest Empire in Southeast Asian history, and (at least) 2 world wars were fought.
And then in 1962 the Skuldelev ships were found and excavated. To do so, they built a huge air bubble in the sea and then drained the area of water. Effective, though I imagine that technique would not be allowed these days. They turned out to be five different types of ships ranging from cargo ships to ships of war. In the late 90’s they uncovered a further 9 ships including the longest Viking warship ever discovered, at 36 metres.
The ships are the raison d’être of the museum of course. But there is lots more. The special exhibit when I visited was called “The World in the Viking Age,” which detailed the state of the world for about 200 years. Very cool. There are also many workshops where you can learn how to do traditional crafts like knot tying, rope-making, rune crafting, and more. But my favorite, by far, was talking to Tom, an expert in weaponsmithing and sword-fighting. I got to try on medieval mail (way more comfortable than I expected) and practice with a variety of medieval weaponry.
I kind of thought when I got there that the museum would only last an hour or two. But I stayed until closing, and ended up being there for over 6 hours. That makes the 20 dollar entrance fee seem much more reasonable. And did I mention you could dress up like a VIKING?